Biddeford bus drivers carry picket signs and chant, “We need a contract,” during a protest before Wednesday’s School Committee meeting. The school department and the Teamsters Local 340 labor union have for months been negotiating a new contract for the drivers.

Biddeford bus drivers carry picket signs and chant, “We need a contract,” during a protest before Wednesday’s School Committee meeting. The school department and the Teamsters Local 340 labor union have for months been negotiating a new contract for the drivers.

BIDDEFORD — In the hour preceding Wednesday’s School Committee meeting, more than a dozen Biddeford school bus drivers picketed outside of Biddeford High School, calling for wage increases and more guaranteed hours.

The school department employs 26 drivers who are members of a bargaining unit represented by the Teamsters Local 340 labor union, Ray Cote, business agent for the union, said during the protest. The drivers’ contract expired more than five months ago and the union and school department have been negotiating a new one for months.

Cote said the union is pushing for a 3 percent wage increase over the next three years for drivers, a more generous short-term disability policy, an increase in sick day accrual and more guaranteed hours. Currently, he said, drivers are only guaranteed 25 hours of work per week, while the school department contracts additional hours with non- union drivers.

“They’re using subcontractors to do some of the bargaining unit’s work, and the reason they’re doing it is because they can’t keep enough employees because they don’t pay well enough,” said Cote.

While the department remains open to most of the union’s demands, including a pay increase, the main point of contention is the subcontracted work, which the department uses to save money.

“Why use an empty bus and possibly pay overtime to help a single truant student, or bring a few students to a statewide competition, when less expensive options exist?” the department said in a press release. “Teamsters drivers would continue to bring students between home and school and on sports and field trips – the department simply wants clearer language to ensure that students don’t miss out on opportunities due to the cost of transportation.”

The department said in the release that it is committed to negotiating a contract that is fair for both the drivers and taxpayers in the community, as well as beneficial to students.

The chief and assistant stewards of the union both said during the protest that the stalemated negotiations are making an already difficult job all the more difficult.

“It’s killing the morale of our drivers,” said Mike Staples, the assistant union steward. “We don’t feel appreciated. … (Driving a school bus is) not a walk in the park. It’s a difficult job.”

Superintendent Jeremy Ray and the School Committee met in executive session to discuss the contract negotiations at Wednesday’s meeting. Ray said Wednesday morning that the session was scheduled primarily to get the entire committee “up to speed” regarding the negotiations, as three new committee members were sworn in Tuesday.

— Staff Writer Angelo J. Verzoni can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or [email protected]


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